The archaeological and historical context

In the middle La Tene period in north-alpine Europe, the principal source of ornamented metal-work continues to be burials, but in place of the high-status Furstengraber of the early La Tene phase are cemeteries, comprising both flat-graves and tumuli according to regional preference, but seldom displaying the extravagance in grave-goods of the princely burials of the middle Rhine or Champagne. In place of the wine-service and precious personal ornaments, the best-equipped burials are those of a martial elite, whose 'triple panoply' of sword, spear and shield becomes the hallmark of the Celtic warrior. The distribution and range of ancillary types, such as brooches and bracelets, suggest a developed network of local craftsmen and markets rather than long-distance connections, which are attested only by a limited number of luxury goods.

The appearance of these cemeteries in eastern Central Europe from the end of the fourth century, like the appearance of La Tene types south of the Alps a century earlier, was inextricably associated by an older generation of archaeologists with the historical accounts of Celtic expansion eastward and south-eastward that culminated in the sack of Delphi in 279 bc. According to Livy, Gauls under Segovesus had migrated eastwards into the uplands of Bohemia at the same time as Bellovesus had led his Gallic tribes into Italy. Equally from the documentary sources, we learn that Celts had served as mercenaries in the Peloponnese as early as 369, and were also among envoys received by Alexander the Great on the lower Danube in 335. As with the trans-alpine migrations, we might suspect that these inroads had already begun well before they were recorded historically. In 280 bc, the Gauls are recorded as invading Macedonia in three divisions, led by Cerethrius, Bolgius and Brennus respectively, the latter being briefly frustrated in his advance at the Pass of Thermopylae before proceeding to sack Delphi. Named contingents, including the Tectosages, a tribe familiar from southern Gaul, the Tolistobogii and the Trocmi crossed the Hellespont, eventually being subdued by Antiochus in 276 and settling in the vicinity of Ankara, where their Gallic origins were to be enshrined in the name of the New Testament Galatians to whom St Paul wrote his epistle. The Gauls were eventually defeated by the Hellenistic ruler of Pergamon, Attalos I, who at the end of the third century was responsible for erecting the original victory monument which included the memorable images of the Dying Gaul and the suicide of a Gaul and his lady. That these accounts were doubtless based on a characteristic mix of fact, propaganda and legend need not detract from the authenticity of the fundamental fact of an aggressive Gaulish presence in South-Eastern Europe in the third century bc. Correlating that basic truth with the archaeological evidence is, as ever, much more problematic.

Middle La Tene cemeteries in eastern Central Europe divide into two distinctive distributions. Northern Bohemia, the upper Elbe, Austria and Hungary as far as the Tisza are characterized by flat-grave cemeteries; by contrast, north-eastern Bavaria and southern Bohemia are notable for their tradition of burial in barrow cemeteries. This contrast was once seen, by Filip (1956) and others, as corresponding to the graves of migrating Celts and the native population respectively, though this must always have seemed an improbably simplistic equation. Current opinion, in any event, now favours an earlier date for the Gaulish expansion in Eastern Europe, with evidence for fifth-century La Tene A movements into the Carpathian basin (Szabo, 1992, 17). From the occurrence of square-ditched barrow cemeteries in immediate proximity to older Hallstatt burials, it might be inferred that the process of expansion and acculturation in eastern Central Europe was a relatively peaceful one rather than the culture conflict attested in the South-East by the Greek historians. Szabo (ibid., 27ff) cited cemetery evidence from Transdanubia and northern Serbia that he believed indicated the co-existence of incomers with indigenous communities. New cemeteries appear in Bohemia from the early fourth century at least, pre-dating the La Tene B1 horizon, which is associated archaeologically with the type-sites at Münsingen in Switzerland and Duchcov (Dux) in the Czech Republic and their diagnostic brooch types. By the late fourth century, such cemeteries appear in Hungary and Transdanubia, but by contrast there is very little surviving evidence for a Celtic presence in Macedonia, where we must therefore conclude either that the impact of incursions was relatively brief or that any continuing presence was subject to acculturation in which the La Tene component was effectively subsumed.

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